Responses to Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo – from MPs, and a Poignant and Powerful Article by Cori Crider of Reprieve

6.11.15

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Since Shaker Aamer returned to the UK from Guantánamo last Friday, much has been written — most of it, I’m glad to say, positive about a man so evidently wronged; held for nearly 14 years without charge or trial, and approved for release twice, under George W. Bush in 2007, and Barack Obama in 2009.

When Shaker returned — in part, I’m prepared to accept, because of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I conceived and ran with Joanne MacInnes — I wrote an article that was widely liked and shared and commented on, publicized the gracious comment Shaker made on his return, posted a photo of myself holding a “Welcome Home Shaker” card that reached over 20,000 people, and made a number of TV and radio appearances during a brief media frenzy that coincided with the long-overdue news of Shaker’s release.

It was so busy that I haven’t had time to thank the supporters who made such a big difference — John McDonnell MP, the Shadow Chancellor, who set up the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group and was its co-chair, the Conservative MP David Davis, the other co-chair, and his colleague Andrew Mitchell, Jeremy Corbyn (now the Leader of the Labour Party), and Andy Slaughter (the Labour MP for Hammersmith), who, with David Davis, visited Washington D.C. in May to call for Shaker’s release. Also noteworthy for her contribution over many years is Caroline Lucas, our sole Green MP.

John McDonnell wrote:

Shaker Aamer’s return to British soil from Guantánamo this morning is a momentous occasion and a tribute to the tireless work of the dedicated campaigners that have fought so resolutely for him to be freed. [His] 14 years of incarceration in Guantánamo Bay, despite never having stood trial, never having been convicted, and cleared for release by successive US administrations is a dark chapter in the history rights abuses.

As chair of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, I am proud to have contributed to securing his release. We will now do all we can now to provide Shaker and his family with the support they need to reintegrate back into our society and lead a normal life. In the fullness of time we expect now to be given answers to what happened to him, why this gross miscarriage of justice was allowed to occur and the extent of British involvement in his plight.

Jeremy Corbyn wrote:

I attended an all-party delegation to Washington, in May of this year, which demanded his release. The pressure mounted by the British Parliament contributed to Shaker’s freedom. But we must recognise the crucial role played by the steadfastness of his family and the commitment of all those who campaigned for his release, whether they lobbied their MPs or demonstrated on the streets against this huge injustice.

Now that Shaker has been released, the scandal of the Guantánamo detention camp itself must be brought to an end. I hope that Shaker and his family will now be given the time and space to rebuild their lives.

Caroline Lucas wrote (also including a photo of me, which was a pleasant surprise!):

Shaker’s prolonged detention was entirely unjustifiable. The Government and security services must now guarantee the safety of Shaker and his family upon his arrival home. His lawyers must be also allowed to implement a care programme for him without any interference.

Shaker’s case reinforces the urgent need for the judge-led enquiry into UK complicity in torture that the Prime Minister promised in 2010 but then backtracked on.

Huge thanks must also go to Shaker’s indefatigable lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, who has, of course, spoken extensively about him over the years — and was on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2 on November 2, at the end of an eight-minute section that began with Dr. David Nicholl, neurologist and human rights campaigner, discussing Shaker’s return as the head of his post-release medical team.

However, the most poignant words I’ve read about Shaker since his return were written by another of his lawyers, Cori Crider, the Strategic Director of Reprieve, in an article for Newsweek that was published on the day of Shaker’s release.

In it, Cori recalled meeting Shaker for the very first time, and explained how and why he stood up to the authorities so persistently. In just a few paragraphs, she captured perfectly the man who has been informing so many of us of the crimes committed at Guantánamo by the US government in his messages from the prison over the years.

And Cori concluded her article by thinking of others, as Shaker had, and as I’m sure he is now — those left behind in Guantánamo, and those, like her client Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), the Moroccan repatriated six weeks before Shaker, who has been unjustly imprisoned by the Moroccan authorities, as I explained in an article yesterday.

Shaker Aamer’s Lawyer: Obama Must Now Free the Remaining Guantanamo Inmates
By Cori Crider, Newsweek, October 30, 2015

The first contact between a Guantánamo prisoner and a lawyer is often dramatic. You have had plenty of time to worry about how your new client is, and you will have wondered whether he will accept you. Will a man imprisoned without charge or trial and tortured by the U.S. government trust me, a lawyer from rural Texas?

Years ago, I sat in the brutal Cuban sun and imagined what Shaker Aamer would be like. It is hard to believe that today — over a decade on — Aamer has finally been sent home to London, to his British wife and children.

The minders at Camp Echo are bored young military police. Many regard the “detainee lawyer” as a curious species. They have been told the lie that all detainees are somehow connected to 9/11, so any American who has chosen to help them is one step from Osama bin Laden. If anyone has told them the truth — that the majority of Gitmo prisoners, like Shaker, should never have been sent there and pose no threat — they give no sign of it.

“You here for 239?” the sergeant of guard drawled. This was Shaker’s prison number. Throughout his time in Gitmo, he had no name.

A guard escorted me through a warren of chain-link fences and gestured toward a shack. He unbolted and pulled open the cell door. I peered inside, but the contrast between the sun where I stood and the shade of the meeting room was such that I could not make Shaker out at first: He was a shadow at the back of the room.

You can tell a lot about a client from the first moment you look at each other. Some men are withdrawn, depressed. Some look away. Some don’t even lift their heads, they are so tired and sad.

Not Shaker. After the famous photo of him, rotund and serious, the last thing I expected was a massive expanse of grinning teeth. Hard years and intermittent hunger-striking had shrunk him to nothing. I saw a thin, aging man — but my very first memory of Shaker is his smile.

We got to know each other — though the meeting belonged to Shaker, and he had a lot he wanted to say to me. He was warm, engaging, but also defiant, and over our years together, I came to realize the reason Shaker Aamer so irritated the authorities at Gitmo. He stood up to them, in their own language — and he has a quintessentially British sense of fair play.

Shaker also has a Briton’s compassion for the underdog. If a prisoner was punished unfairly or abused, Shaker was the first to object. This got him into trouble — he was one of the first and few to protest in English, and he paid for it dearly, with 14 years of abuse.

While Shaker is, thankfully, set to settle back in London with his family and begin the long journey of recovery and recuperation, we at Reprieve, where we represent prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay and provide legal assistance to many more, have serious work to do to help other men who’ve faced the same ordeal — both those still stuck in Guantánamo and others who’ve had the misfortune to be released only to be detained on arrival.

Among these is my client Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan man who was just transferred back to his home country after some 14 years of detention at Guantánamo. Since his release [seven] weeks ago, the Moroccan authorities have detained him — violating their assurances to the U.S. that he would not be detained more than 72 hours. Now it appears the Moroccan authorities may even charge this innocent, traumatized man on the basis of evidence so faulty that even the U.S. could never build a case. The Moroccan authorities have steadfastly refused to let me see him, even though I am his lawyer.

In 14 years of imprisonment, Younous was never charged with a crime by the U.S. — like all the men at Gitmo, he was taken there on the basis of a tissue of lies and distortions fed to the U.S. by tortured and coerced prisoners at notorious black sites like Bagram and Kandahar. Last week, the U.S. State Department finally admitted, in an unclassified letter to Reprieve, what we knew all along — that years ago it “withdrew all reliance” on its own faulty “evidence” during secretive U.S. court proceedings, ultimately accepting that Younous should be released.

If Morocco — a close ally — charges Younous on the selfsame charges, it will be to the eternal shame of the U.S. government.

Shaker paid the bitterest price for insisting on the rights enshrined in Britain’s Magna Carta. The Obama administration has finally freed him to his home country, but Guantánamo remains open — and Younous catastrophically imprisoned based on the mistake of the U.S. Now that Shaker is home, the U.S. must urgently turn to the many others whose rights it has trampled on for 14 years.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    It’s a week since Shaker Aamer was released from ‪‎Guantanamo‬, and as he continues to recover, here’s a round-up of responses from the MPs who did so much for him (inc. John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas) and my favourite article about him, by his lawyer Cori Crider of Reprieve, who also discussed Younous Chekkouri, imprisoned in Morocco despite assurances that he would be a free man on his return.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. If you can bear to put up with Ben Wittes of Lawfare, who heads that generally dreadful website, and, in his own capacity, has made a career our of rubber-stamping the profoundly untrustworthy information the US government used in an attempt to justify the prisoners’ detention – and who seems also to ignore that Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force updated those assessments in 2009 – then you’ll no doubt find Cori Crider​’s words, when she responded to a request for comment from her, to cut perfectly through his lies and distortions:

    For me to reply to it violates a cardinal rule we run here at Reprieve, which is not to engage with an entity that has no real role to play in the predicament of our clients. But bearing in mind Winston Churchill’s admonition about magnanimity in victory, since you were kind enough to invite a reply, allow me to raise a couple of issues in passing.

    You refer (and link approvingly) to the Nov 2007 Wikileaks detainee assessment. This surprises me. You know as well as anyone that those JTF assessments do not reflect the considered view of the Defense Department, and were superseded by the conclusions of Matthew Olson’s Gitmo Task Force. The Defense Department’s own processes cleared Shaker first under the Bush administration, and the Task Force later did the same. You also know that DOD had an institutional veto over the latter process.

    For someone who claims to be dedicated to hard-headed deliberation about national security issues, as well as suspicious of leaks, you say nothing about the many demonstrated problems with the leaked 2007 assessments.

    I have seen the classified files, which constrains what I can say. Most prisoners’ JTF assessment files, however, are a toxic mixture of misinformation abused out of the prisoner in Gitmo; extracted from a different prisoner in one of the CIA’s torture facilities; or, most often of all, fabricated by one of Guantánamo’s serial informants. Several of these men are known (to the Defense Department) to have concocted tall tales about over a hundred other prisoners to earn favours and avoid abuse. Given all this it’s no surprise that my client the al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was described as a member of al-Qaida, or that my client Mohammed el Gharani (taken to Gitmo aged 14) was said to be an ally of Shaker’s in al-Qaida’s so-called ‘London cell’ at a time when Mohammed would have been about eleven and had never left his family home in Saudi Arabia.

    As for habeas, you also know that meaningful review of the government’s detention authority died a slow death throughout 2010 and 2011, the final knell of which was the DC Circuit’s decision in Latif. Virtually no one pressed petitions after Latif. It would have been nigh on malpractice to do so. My organisation, which has precious few attorneys but represented more detainees than any other single entity, litigated as many cases we physically could before Latif. (I note that Mr. [Younous] Chekkouri, [a former detainee] now in detention in Morocco, litigated his case through a hearing and there never was any judgment. He remained in detention for many years thereafter, as the umpteenth example of how otiose the process had become.)

    I suspect the underlying source of your irritation is that in the United Kingdom the years-long detention of Shaker Aamer is not a partisan issue. Britons on the left and right consider it a simple matter of the rule of law. The reason for that is, while (as you often point out) the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the Bush and Obama administrations’ theory of indefinite global war, that is not a view that the majority of the world’s populace shares.

    In Temple Church at the moment you can visit a copy of the Magna Carta, on display for the celebrations of its 800th anniversary. Habeas corpus, of course, is older even than its mention in the Great Charter. It means a great deal to the people of the British Isles. They are proud of habeas, proud of the way they have handed down this principle, however imperfectly, over centuries of British justice. They should be.

    The post featuring Cori Crider’s response to Ben Wittes is here: https://www.lawfareblog.com/correction-reiteration-and-response-shaker-aamer-1

    And Cori was specifically responding to Wittes’ post following Shaker’s release, here, in which he asked, cynically, why Shaker hadn’t had a habeas petition: https://www.lawfareblog.com/shaker-aamer-goes-free-great-win-im-not-sure-what

    In his latest post, I must also note that he makes a huge distinction between being “cleared for release” from Guantanamo and being “approved for transfer subject to appropriate security measures”, as though there is some meaningful difference between them, when there isn’t. The only forum in which the so-called evidence was tested was in the courts, where judges approved dozens of prisoners for release until, as Cori notes, the court of appeals (the D.C. Circuit Court) shut the litigation down.

    Decisions taken by review bodies, on the other hand, were – and are – based, essentially, on risk assessments that, when it comes to the task force’s recommendations, for example, were a kind of adaptation of what was in the earlier files, drawing on some of those dubious assessments while disregarding others, and also giving weight to assessments of the prisoners’ behavior.

    The task force concluded that 48 men were “too dangerous to release” despite a lack of evidence justifying their imprisonment, but as we’re now seeing with the Periodic Review Boards, when looked at another way, these men’s alleged dangerousness is being mitigated, largely through more compliant behavior – and it would be fair to say, I think, that in many cases a lot of the presumed dangerousness that led the authorities to attempt to justify endless imprisonment was based solely on threats made, or on an ongoing lack of cooperation, rather than anything else (and yes, while threats can be a sign of danger, they can also be the outpouring of deep frustration after years held without charge or trial).

    It’s endlessly irritating that Wittes, and others like him weighing in on the lives of men unjustly detained by the US, as though their opinion should count for anything, continue to believe that what purports to be evidence is at all trustworthy, in an presumptive sense, when all of it needs rigorous analysis (of which he is generally incapable) before being accepted.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Heather Lyle wrote:

    Sending love to Shaker, I’m so happy that he’s finally home and yet my heart still breaks for the terrors that he and his family have endured. I wish them many years of happiness and some well deserved justice.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Heather. I’m glad there are so many of us wishing Shaker well for the future!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jessy Mumpo wrote:

    Such a moving article, but still so much work to do. Who should we write to in Morocco about Younous? I could ask our Amnesty group to sign a joint letter.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Information coming soon from Reprieve, I’m told, Jessy. I’ll keep you posted.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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